Episode Title: The Three Sisters
Season 03, Episode 10
Episode 041 of 344
Written by Daniel J. Franklin
Directed by Kim Friedman
Original Airdate: Thursday, January 21st, 1982
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Laura takes the neighborhood women with her to check out an estate to sell. The estate is rumored to be haunted by the three sisters who lived there. The women must spend the night when Karen's car won't start. The ghosts of the sisters want Val to join them and be their mother, and try to get her to jump off the roof. On the roof, Lilimae is able to talk Val out of her trance, and she doesn't jump.
Do you remember the conclusion of my write up on last week’s episode, The Rose and the Briar? Well, allow me to refresh your memory, because when discussing the final scene of the episode (Abby hopping into the car with Gary and Olivia and proclaiming to Val, “Don’t we look like a real family?”) I wrote, “They drive away, leaving Val in the dust, and Lilimae offers her daughter these words of wisdom, ‘You’d better watch out for your man, sugar.’ Ooooh, how ominous, and if I was a 1982 viewer you can bet my ass would be back on that couch next Thursday to see how this all plays out.” Well, if I was a 1982 viewer and my ass was indeed back on that couch next Thursday and The Three Sisters started to unfold before me, you can bet I would be one very confused faggot and the writers would definitely have some ‘splaining to do.
Seriously, what the hell is this? What we have this week is pretty much exactly what I predicted was coming just as I got revved up to start season three with My Beloved Grammy. What’s going on this season is that the writers just can’t decide whether they’re ready to go for full-on soap storytelling or if they still wanna do single episode one-offs that are completely self contained and have no bearing on the larger plot. That in itself is not what makes this week’s episode so bizarre, though, and while I don’t think I’m gonna call The Three Sisters the worst episode of KL (I am thinking that honor might still belong to Land of the Free, but I might also bestow it on Kristin or Man of the Hour), this definitely gets my vote for the strangest episode of KL ever and yes, I mean ever. I’m not just saying this is the strangest episode up to this point; I predict that this will remain the strangest episode out of KL’s entire 344 episode run.
Okay, things start out okay, lulling us into complacency. We get the thirty second preview and then the classic scrolling opening credits, and we’re still feeling comfortable. But then the very next thing we see is creepy shots of, like, big scary statues in front of a spooky mansion while creepy music plays over the imagery. Immediately I’m thinking, “Uh oh, what’s going on here?” However, the viewer is briefly lulled back into complacency because we have a five second scene set on the cul-de-sac right after this. In fact, I am gonna note this, because I think this is the first time we see a shot that they are going to use over and over again until the end of the series in 1993. It’s this shot of the cul-de-sac, right? But it starts behind the leaves of some tree and then the camera pans up and the street is revealed to us. This shot is as familiar to me as a well loved blanket, and unless I missed it earlier, I think it’s making its first appearance here, but it certainly won’t be its last.
Anyway, Laura is going off to this spooky and allegedly haunted house that she needs to figure out a way to sell, so she invites all the ladies along. Oh, except for Abby. She doesn’t actually invite Abby, who just sorta shows up, and we get a nice exchange where Abs is like, “Thanks for inviting me, Laura!” and Laura says, “I didn’t invite you; you invited you.” LOL, gotta love that Laura wit. Anyway, all the ladies pile into Laura’s station wagon and they start driving. Bizarrely, we keep cutting from the ladies in the car (singing 99 Bottles of Beer, which I somehow doubt a group of grown women would actually sing while on a road trip) to shots of the spooky house. Seriously, it’s like a quick scene of the girls in the car, a cut back to the spooky house with all the statues in front, and then back to the ladies, and this goes on for about 72 minutes. Oh yeah, and we also get some footage straight out of The Shining of the car driving along a totally deserted road as if it’s heading up to The Overlook Hotel.
In addition to singing that great song, the ladies also take time to discuss the history of this house and how it’s allegedly haunted. Abby is sitting in the back with some books that she says she picked up at the local library; she asked for any book they had on hauntings so she could do some research. Basically, this house has some weird history involving three sisters (like the title!) who lived there their whole lives and were, like, kinda crazy. Honestly, this part of the plot was fuzzy to me, but they were, like, abandoned by their parents or something and then one of the sisters died, so the other two sisters just stayed in the house in this weird, creepy, stunted adolescence where they continued to dress as little girls long into their adulthood. Well, now all three sisters have died and are, I guess, allegedly ghosts.
Anyway, the ladies arrive at the house and from here, there’s just no letup. This episode is a horror movie; I’m calling it right now, and I gotta say as dumb and weird and totally out-of-nowhere as this episode is, there were many moments in it that I found genuinely unnerving. As we started this episode, the sun was still out, and as the episode progressed, the sun started to set and I have to say that added something of a creepy effect to the episode, as well, and I was bizarrely grateful that we had two more episodes on the disk and that we could safely return to the more standard proceedings of life on the cul-de-sac before I had to leave and drive home in the dark.
This episode is directed by Kim Friedman, who has directed a handful of eps we’ve already talked about and will direct one more during season four (her total output on KL is eight episodes spanning Civil Wives in 1980 to And Teddy Makes Three in 1983). What’s bizarre is that if I didn’t know this and if I wasn’t nerding out and making sure to keep focus on who is writing and directing eps, I would assume this ep was directed by some one-off director because it’s got a style all its own that’s totally bizarre. For instance, the ladies enter the haunted mansion and it’s immediately spooky. The floor is a checkerboard pattern straight out of a Tim Burton wet dream and there’s a staircase that goes in a circle around the room, leading to the upstairs. But that’s all just architectural stuff; what I’m really talking about is the way the camera moves and functions in this episode. There appears to be a lot of handheld, voyeuristic camerawork going on here, and I think Kim Friedman is making use of a wide angle lens to make it look weirder and scarier, as well.
Follow me, here. After they enter the house and start exploring, ‘80s horror movie style, Valene decides to take a trip upstairs (I have a theory that she needs to take a dump and is embarrassed about it, because she doesn’t tell anyone where she’s going, just sneaks upstairs, and then the next time we see her she’s in the bathroom washing her hands). Anyway, as she walks up the stairs, the camera just follows behind her and it’s handheld, not a tracking shot, but basically someone walking right behind her and photographing her that way, and this is done many times throughout the ep, not just in this one scene. But that’s not even all of it. This episode also sounds spooky; there are truly horrifying whispering and giggling sounds permeating the soundtrack and usually coinciding with these weird tracking shots. It actually made me think of John Boorman’s bizarro and trippy Exorcist II more than anything, like when we go into “Locust-Cam” in that movie.
Okay, so what happens as the ladies enter the house? Well, Val goes upstairs to the bathroom and after we see her washing her hands, we watch her attempt to get out of the bathroom and have no success. No matter how hard she tugs on the door, it just won’t open, and then this really violent wind starts to pour in from the open window and the music gets scary and the sound effects are loud and damn if I’m not really spooked watching this. Now, a few seconds later the ladies come up and rescue Val from the bathroom, but then they take a look at her hands and they’re, like, burned or blistered or something, Amityville Horror-style, and Val says how that’s weird because she washed her hands with cold water. Hmmm, how odd.
The episode kinda unfolds following standard haunted house movie clichés, like the ladies just generally wandering around and exploring new stuff. We get a good look at the creepy basement (there will later be a horrifying scene featuring Val in this basement, so stay tuned) as well as the uber creepy bedroom which is, naturally, adorned with creepy dolls all along the wall. If you want to make your bedroom even spookier than it already is, just add seven thousand dolls to it and boom, you will have succeeded.
Actually, this scene is kinda funny because Abby plays a wicked trick on the ladies. Karen goes up to the shelf of dolls, you see, and then suddenly the shelf collapses as if the dolls are coming to life and attacking her. Everyone screams and shrieks, and then Abs reveals herself from behind the shelf with a little puppet thing on her hand. There’s some nice tension relieving laughter in this scene and I smiled because of the wicked glint in Abby’s eyes.
I’m kinda jumping around here, I think, but anyway, the first scene in this ep that made me go, “Oh Jesus Christ,” was where Val looks into the bedroom and we get a quick, almost subliminal flash of the three sisters sitting on their beds, staring at Val and smiling. Seriously, this is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flash of horror and I found it terrifying. In all honesty, I find kids terrifying in general, but especially little girls, and I hope that God never curses me with little daughters (although I’m a fag and I may very well never have children because, for one thing, it’s a little harder for us fags to obtain children, but for another I just find them so damn frightening) so it’s not hard to unnerve me by putting spooky girls grinning at me into a subliminal flash.
What’s weird and creepy is that Val is not frightened by these girls and, instead, seems to go into a trance whenever their ghostly presence pops up before her. If I have to find a way to connect this unbelievably bizarre episode into the larger context of the KL story, this is all I got, because I suppose you could say this episode expresses some of Val’s desires for children and the hole in her heart that she still carries with her because of having baby Lucy taken away from her so long ago. Indeed, we never see a scene where Val is afraid of these girls; instead she seems to be happy and delighted whenever they show up, but that happiness is expressed in a trance-like state.
More horror movie clichés: The girls are about finished looking at the house, Laura is wondering how she’ll ever be able to sell it, they decide to call it a night, they pile in the car and, OMIGOD, it won’t start. Lilimae is horrified at the idea of staying the night in the haunted house (she is very metaphysical and in touch with spirits, you see, much like Val’s Aunt Ginny whom we’ll be seeing in about five thousand years) but the other ladies are cool with it. It’s just a house, right? So they pack back in for the night, and then when they’re all gathered around the kitchen table, there’s a loud and frightening knock at the door and they all pee their pants are like, “Oh no! Who is that?!”
Well, it turns out to be a Jack Nicholson lookalike butler or caretaker or whatever played by Kevin Hagan. I note with a smidge of interest that this guy is in 113 episodes of Little House on the Prairie (a series I will probably never watch) as Dr. Hiram Baker. He’s also just in lots of stuff, mostly TV work. It’s not terribly surprising when I peek at these random actors’ resumes that the majority of their work is guest spots on TV, not every guest star on KL can be a Karen Allen or a Gary Sinise or a Helen Hunt or a Halle Berry, now can they? Anyway, this guy turns out to be harmless; he’s just the caretaker and he was coming by to make sure everything was okay with the house. He tells them he came by foot and doesn’t have a vehicle, so they remain trapped for the night.
At some point Val disappears. The ladies all hear her scream, they pile into the room from whence her screams came, only to discover an open window and no Val. So then we get a lot of really dull scenes of Lilimae wandering around in the dark with a candle (My Beloved Grammy helpfully observed that there’s a pounding, storming wind that is blowing everything in sight, yet Lilimae’s candle flame is just fine and dandy). This stuff is intercut with really bizarre footage of Val sitting in the basement, listening to a music box, and smiling while the three girls dance around.
Who are these three girls, by the way? I have no idea, as they are uncredited for the episode and not even listed on the IMDb page. I wonder if the producers figured that so long as they don’t speak, they don’t count as guest starts and, therefore, don’t have to be paid as much. In any case, I suppose we become a little less frightened of the girls when we realize that Val is not afraid of them. And they don’t appear to be doing anything too evil; just dancing and hopping in circles around Val. However, Val is totally bonkers at this point and winds up at the top of the house, ready to take a plunge off a balcony.
This shit is just weird, man, because at this point the three sisters are standing on the ground, looking up at the house, but our other ladies are standing around in front of them, clearly not seeing them; only Val can see them, although Lilimae claims later that she spotted them, as well. Lilimae makes it up in time to stop Val from, I guess, committing suicide, and it’s all very loud and intense, as Val mutters, “They need me,” and Lilimae screams back, “I need you!” Well, eventually Val is talked back down and we dissolve to the next morning, the terrors of the night left in the past.
Now that it’s morning, things don’t seem as spooky and the ladies are ready to get a move on. I forgot to mention that Laura is using a Polaroid camera to snap pictures this whole episode, and wouldn’t you know it, when they finally go through the stack of photos at the ending here, there’s the three creepy-ass girls in a photo standing with Val at the top of the staircase. To make matters even more bizarre, Karen decides to give the car another try and this time it starts right up. Was some malevolent force screwing with the car the night before as a way of keeping the ladies trapped in the house? I do think that’s what we’re supposed to take from it. The episode ends completely on a very cryptic note, just panning up to the mansion as the ladies drive away, leaving all of us viewers scratching our heads about exactly what it was we just watched.
Okay, so I told you this is the strangest KL ep ever, and if you watched it, I’m sure you’ll agree with me, but is it a bad episode? Hmmmm, I’m not entirely sure. I remembered this episode fairly vividly because it’s just so unique; it doesn’t blend in with the rest of the series at all, as there’s no other ep in the series where ghosts and spooks are, presumably, presented as a reality. As we got ready to watch this episode, my sphincter was clenched and I was like, “Oh, fuck no, it’s The Three Sisters.” It’s incredibly isolated from the rest of the series, it doesn’t even feature any of our male cast members, and it really contributes nothing to the overall saga. It even fits into the run of shows strangely, pausing developments in the Abby/Gary relationship that are going to pick up immediately as we start our next episode.
I developed a theory while watching that this episode was meant to air elsewhere in the season, maybe closer to the beginning. In fact, I think that if you had to move this episode around on the lineup, it might not be so bad if it came in-between The Surprise and One of a Kind, and if I had to take a guess, that’s where I’d think it was meant to be. But I get the feeling that someone got their notes mixed up or maybe some suit was like, “Eh, that ghost girl episode is kinda gay; maybe we should push it a little further back in the season.” It’s just a theory, but it’s one I feel fairly comfortable presenting.
Oh yeah, and who wrote this episode? The name is Daniel J. Franklin and I looked the dude up and he only has three writing credits to his name, and the other two are Dream a Little Dream (where he gets credit for the screenplay) and, even better, Dream a Little Dream 2, where I think he’s just credited with characters or something. The mystery of The Three Sisters and its place in our universe just continues to grow as I try to do some more research. Who is this writer? How can I find out more about him? Forget interviewing David Jacobs; I think I’d rather interview this guy. I wanna ask him how this came about, where the idea came from, how it was greenlit (is that term applicable in TV?), why it even exists at all. If anyone has any information on this writer, please gimme a holler cuz I would love to get in touch with him.
But to answer that question of is this good or bad, I dunno. I kinda enjoyed watching it, I must say, and I did find some of it pretty creepy and unnerving (those girls sitting on the bed, man…..). So if the point was to make an episode that would spook the audience and make them feel uncomfortable, they succeeded in that regard. And heck, maybe we’re just still early enough in the run that the writers are still trying to find their footing; they’re not quite ready to take off like a shot as they will be when we start season four. I certainly would take this ep over Land of the Free, Kristin, Moments of Truth, and Man of the Hour. Mostly that’s because I find this episode oddly fascinating and entrancing in a way that those others are not (Kristin, for instance, is just boring). Maybe it’s because I like haunted houses and horror movies and this episode just has elements that I am going to enjoy.
Make no mistake, however, if you’re getting started with KL and are not a nerdy completionist who must watch EVERY SINGLE EPISODE in strict airdate order, feel free to skip this episode, as you will miss nothing. In fact, the flow of the episodes would be much better jumping from The Rose and the Briar to Power Play, something I’m gonna discuss a little more next week when we get to that episode. I would definitely not show this episode to someone who is new to KL if I was trying to sell them on the brilliance and majesty of the series; you definitely don’t say, “Oh, KL is such a great show and you should watch it; I’ll prove it to you by showing The Three Sisters!” No, definitely not, no way. Even so, I guess I would have to say that the episode is weird, it’s dumb, it’s isolated, and it can be skipped, but I still kinda liked it and there were elements of it that I dug. Oh yeah, and it did have some witty dialogue like when Abby says, “I think there’s some instant coffee in the kitchen,” and Laura replies, “I’ll show you how to make it.” Both me and My Beloved Grammy laughed at that line.
Okay, so enough of this weird shit with ghost girls and haunted houses; let’s get back to people having affairs and shit, cuz isn’t that what it’s all about? Next week we see Abby’s efforts at seducing Gary crank up to 100 as we dive right into Power Play.